Monday, May 07, 2007

Meals, ready to eat.

Daughter was doing her math homework at the kitchen table. I was flinging objects out of the fridge, trying to create her lunch for the next day. I came across some vegetable potstickers which fulfilled my lunchbox requirements: they were unlikely to leak, they had trace amounts of vegetables, and they were already made. I waved the container at Daughter.

“Do you want potstickers for lunch tomorrow?”

She shook her head firmly.

“No, I don’t like them…wait, I mean, yeah. I want them, please.”

I squinted suspiciously. Something was up. The challenge now was to phrase the question in such as way as to elicit the truth, because too direct a query would unleash the fabulist in my offspring.

If I said:
“…but you just said you don’t like them…”,

it would have led to:
“Oh, I meant I didn’t like the other kind. The kind with…you know, the other kind.”

If I asked:
“So you like these potstickers? Would you like one right now?”

she would have said brightly:
“I love them! I love them so much that I can’t even eat one.”

This required a neurosurgeon’s touch.

“Sweetie, who likes the potstickers?”

“Sienna.” she said absently, drawing angel wings on her 7’s, “If I bring her potstickers, she’ll give me her apple.”

I should have left well-enough alone and just been comforted by the vision of her voluntarily eating something healthy. I think we all know that was never an option.

“Honey, I can send an apple in your lunch. In fact,” I said, reaching into the fridge, “here’s an apple. I just stopped sending them because you didn’t eat them. You said they tasted weird at school.”

Daughter looked up and thought.

“Sienna’s apples are different.”

One of my more unbearably adorable maternal flaws is when I think there is a logical underpinning to the beliefs of a small child. I plunged neck-deep into finding out how to make lunchbox apples un-weird.

“Are they sliced?”


“Are they a different kind then what I get?”


“Dipping sauce?”


“So, what’s so great about Sienna’s apples?” I finally said in frustration.

“They’re just different. Better. Can you send the potstickers so I can have an apple?”

Defeated, I shrugged and popped them into Tupperware.

“Of course.”

Because, when you stop to think about it, she’s getting fruit, I’m getting the potstickers (which she won’t eat anyway) out of the fridge, and I’m one step closer to packing lunch for another day.

I am so bad at packing school lunches. Other people seem to be able to buy and stock food suitable for putting in a box and nourishing their children without difficulty, whereas I revert to a hunter/gatherer mentality, each night a frantic scramble for a nutritious grub here, an edible Fruit Roll-up there. And when I finally prepare the lunch, I look at it and think “Diaper bag.”

Yes, I will clarify.

When Daughter was young and I carried a diaper bag everywhere but to the laundry room and to bed, I was in awe of the mothers at the park who had two of everything the child might need.

Diaper? Check.

Back-up diaper? Check.

Carrot sticks and a drink, with another snack of string cheese packed in ice to stay fresh? Check.
Change of clothes for when the snack and the drink go into the shirt? Check.

First-aid kit? Board book? Back-up shirt for mother? Back-up toddler in case you lose your original child?

Check, check, check, check.

The good parent diaper bag was like a small house with an outside zipper. My bag, however, was always a mute reminder of whatever I had forgotten the last time we were out.

If we didn’t have wipes, and I had been forced to do some rather haphazard cleaning with the sleeve of my sweater, I would go home and pack four containers of wipes. This meant when, the next day at the park, Daughter got her feet wet and needed socks, I would have no socks, because all the room was taken up by the wipes. I would cobble together a foot-covering made from wipes, go home, and put eight pairs of socks in the bag.

This went on for years.

And still, as always, I learned nothing. Last week, I looked into Daughter’s lunch and saw carbohydrates. Nothing but carbohydrates, an Atkins nightmare as far as the eye could see, or the lunchbox could hold. Why? Because Daughter didn’t eat her lunch at all the day before and spoke wistfully of Eva getting pasta in a thermos. And how Eileen had a sandwich cut on the diagonal and didn’t it look good and why didn’t I do things like this? And Sienna’s mom sends Sienna chips, because Sienna’s mom likes her better.

I knew what was required of me to make the guilty mother stabbing pains go away. The lunch which followed was carbs, carbs, carbs, a sea of off-white. I briefly contemplated mixing it up a bit, but the night grew late. I comforted myself thinking I’d make her eat an egg after school and that dinner would be a cavalcade of cruciferous vegetables. But at least this lunch would make her happy.

The next day, I picked her up and her first words to me were “Eva and Sienna both had yoghurt. We could have been triplets, but I had pasta.” She said the word pasta as if it was a kind of disease you get from unpotable water. Again, I fail.

But this trading business might possibly keep Daughter from developing scurvy. The same food which is declared both dreary and possibly carcinogenic when suggested by me becomes both glamourous and yearned-for when seen peeking from the lunchbox of another. Thanks to a class with a reasonably broad ethnic background, when I clean her lunchbox at night, I can find the remnants of Korean, Thai, Chinese, Cambodian, Ecuadorean, or good old-fashioned American cuisine. And let me commend these parents; while Daughter has traded for more than her fair share of Goldfish crackers, she has yet to come home with any remnants of what might have been a Lunchable.

What this lunchtime barter economy is, more than anything else, is an exercise in letting my child go. I can pack whatever I like in her lunchbox with an eye towards keeping her healthy and whole, not to mention bloated on carbohydrates. But the minute she’s away from me, she is going to be herself. With each passing year, each passing month, she is less inclined to fight me to assert her individuality, which would at least give me a sense of how she’s changing, and more inclined to just wait until my car pulls away so she can get what she wants.

And with each passing year, I’ll have a lot more than Lunchables to worry about.


Blogger Melodee said...

You speak the truth. And you speak it beautifully. (And why aren't you selling this stuff to magazines?)

5:39 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

My daughter once came home from school and announced that she was sick of having to bring 'poor people' lunches.

Upon further inquiry I learned that all the cool kids had white bread. Whole wheat was a sure sign of poverty, in her eyes. NOTHING I said would convince her otherwise.

School lunches simply prove that fair trade is NOT dead. It is alive in the hearts and minds of American school children.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Here, I am infinitely lucky. When my daughter was born, I was given a book which can be summed up as "never do for a child what they can do for themselves." So mine has been making her lunch since she was three. Messily, perhaps, but consistently. She tells me when it's time to buy more ingredients at the store, she asks me if sugar free biscotti is a reasonable subsitute for a granola bar and if so would I buy a box please, and so forth. She's eaten some variation on peanut butter and jelly, applesauce, a granola bar and a juice box for lunch (with the exception of the occasional leftover slice of pizza) for seven years without a complaint. I have made some hideously bad parenting choices over the past ten years, but the ones that stem from laziness have always worked out best. Because the thing is, it's not about the food. It's about the fact that manipulating the parents is a fun game and never EVER gets old. Ask my mother - I'm thirty two and I still do it.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love potstickers and would gladly trade an orange.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Jennifer (Jen on the Edge) said...

Our children's school actually forbids food trades, if you can believe that.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just found your blog & I love it already...and not just because I am the mom of a 4 year old.

But the reason I'm commenting is to ask if the consort's initials are MW? If yes, could you please pass along a hello from Julie Ganis? He was ultra-super-duper nice to me years and years ago on a job -- when he knew what he was doing, and I was a retarded newbie. I've never forgotten that.

If the consort is not MW, then, uh, never mind.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maya, you are just showing off.

Quinn, most kids will not trade lunchables, period. Also, I read somewhere that if you store carrots and apples together, it makes them both taste bad. I don't know if this is true, but might be worth trying.


11:35 AM  
Blogger Doc's Girl said...

Too funny... Lunches are hard to pack!! Just found your blog and I look forward to reading more. :)

6:59 PM  
Blogger houseband00 said...

Happy Mother's Day, Quinn! =)

9:03 AM  
Blogger marta said...

I was a mean mom and mainly made my kids eat the school lunch. But occasionally let my daughter take a thermos of split pea soup to school. She loved the soup and she especially loved grossing out the other kids!

8:43 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Anon, considering how many truly horrendous parenting choices I've made, I gladly toot my own horn on the one good one I've managed. The fact that it stems from laziness just makes it better!

8:10 AM  
Blogger Doc's Girl said...

I just wanted to let you know that I tagged you on my blog! :) (for 8 random facts/habits about you)


4:18 AM  

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